May 31, 2007

Jean Prouvé's Maison Tropicale in New York

In the last two weeks, there has been much hype accompanying the imminent New York auction of Jean Prouvé’s Maison Tropicale. One of three prototypes developed by Prouvé around 1950 for the French colonial administration, the prefabricated aluminum bungalow has been recently restored and is currently sitting on a vacant lot in Long Island City, Queens, waiting for someone with a spare five or six million dollars to take it home. Prouvé was a designer dedicated to economy of materials and construction and the Maison certainly looks like a model of industrial efficiency. Elevated on steel stilts, the Maison’s main space is hidden between a louver system hanging from the extended eaves and a metallic balcony below. The sliding aluminum panels that make up the “walls” are punctuated with blue glass portholes, making it look like something from retro science fiction film, particularly from the interior which fills with blue light. The open interior space has a wooden slatted floor, broken only by thin metallic pillars, its decorative scheme a decidedly neutral cream and green. But it is the Maison’s story that is perhaps most appealing, at least to the press. The narrative has all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster in the Indiana Jones mode: a forgotten masterpiece by an almost-forgotten modernist designer, rescued from the war-torn jungles of the Congo, then lovingly restored and triumphantly displayed by the East River with spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline.

Much of the media hype has been generated less by Prouvé’s design than by the phenomenal prices his furniture has commanded at auction in recent years. It seems that the “revival” of Prouvé has been driven almost entirely by the market. Not long after I read about dealers scouring French provincial schools in search of Prouvé “originals”, I noticed in the recent rehang of MoMA’s design collection a Prouvé school desk from 1937 (mass produced steel and oak and looking very rigid, institutional and uncomfortable), purchased by the museum in 2005. Certainly MoMA has fallen for the hype. And hype is the right word, for the Maison Tropicale is currently the centerpiece of a major auction of furniture by Prouvé, Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Jeanneret. This follows a “tour” of the Maison to key American institutions in the last few years, including UCLA and Yale (with accompanying lectures and seminars). Although I should reiterate here the fact that there are two Maisons from Brazzaville, and it is a little hard to work out if the touring Maison is the same as the New York one. But for the purposes of my argument here, it doesn’t matter.

While the multi-million dollar price tag attracts headlines, from a design perspective, critics have noted Prouvé’s efficient modernist design that complements his elegantly constructed furniture, his obsession with standardization and new industrial technologies. Indeed, a prefabricated, mass produced aluminum box such as the Maison Tropicale seems to embody Le Corbusier’s concept of the house as a “machine for living in”. Robert Rubin, former Wall Street trader, Prouvé collector, now Prouvé scholar, described the Maison thus in a recent article: “…the Tropical House of Brazzaville (1951), recently exported from the Congo and restored in France, has recovered its original identity as an industrial object.” (Robert Rubin, “Preserving and Presenting Prefab: Jean Prouvé’s Tropical House”, Future Anterior, Volume 2, Number 1, Summer 2005). The house’s identity has been recovered by Rubin and other critics – it is an industrial object. It is also, as newspaper critics have discussed (see links below), a design object, an architectural object and an extremely rare and valuable commodity. However, what interests me is how presenting and representing (in text and images) the Maison Tropicale as a modernist industrial object conceals its other, perhaps more important identity – as a colonial object, colonial both in the context of the French colonial project of the 1950s and also in the context of its contemporary “rescue” from the jungles of the Congo to the self-proclaimed capital of culture, New York. Furthermore, as emblematic of a particular tendency of European interwar modernism, does the Maison embody an intimate relationship between design modernism and colonialism?

From Prefab to Colonial Modernism

Born in Nancy, Prouvé was originally an ironworker who worked with Le Corbusier, Robert Mallet-Stevens and other modernist architects in the early 1930s, before branching out into furniture design and production, and later into architecture. He belonged to the French modernist generation of the interwar years that believed they could create a new world using industrial materials and processes. With surfaces stripped of decoration, they aimed to mass-produce affordable designer objects, including houses. Prouvé believed that architecture needed to get “up-to-date” with other industries in its utilization of mass production and prefabrication techniques. His first prefabricated houses in the late 1930s were vacation homes made of steel that could be quickly erected or disassembled. During the Second World War, he produced prefabricated barracks and other structures for the French military and continued his work immediately after the war with prefabricated emergency shelters. In 1947, he was approached by the French colonial authorities to produce affordable mass produced housing for colonial officials in West Africa. This commission resulted in three prototypes, produced between 1949 and 1951 – one was shipped to Niamey (now in Niger) in 1949 and the other two to Brazzaville (now in the Republic of Congo). The Niamey one is currently being restored, one of the Brazzaville prototypes is now on permanent display at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the other is waiting in Queens for a new home.

The colonial relationship is ultimately one of power and domination, and it is important to consider the Maison in the light of this relationship. In two books written about Prouvé, I could find nothing about his attitude towards colonialism, nor any evidence that he ever visited France’s East African colonies (see: Sulzer, Peter, Jean Prouvé: Complete Works, Basel : Birkauser, 2000 ; and Huber, Benedikt, and Jean-Claude Steinegger, Jean Prouvé, Prefabrication: Structures and Elements, New York : Praeger, 1971). He was not known as a theorist, and his writings on design tend to focus on industrialization, new technologies and techniques. However, Prouvé and other French modernists of the interwar generation were part of that French generation that witnessed the 1931 French Colonial Exposition in Vincennes – a colonial fantasyland featuring a host of native architectures, all of which aimed to reinforce the French civilizing mission. France had high-tech machines and industrial production processes, while the colonies were clearly filled with primitive peoples living pre-industrial lives. Though the Surrealists didn’t fall for this vision and staged their own counter-imperial exhibition (in conjunction with the Communist Party), I’m not so sure about modernist designers and architects. It was a modernist truism, after all, that European modernism was universal and its design was appropriate for any situation, regardless of the local cultural or environmental context. Add to this the modernist belief in a rational and scientific approach to design that could be objective (Prouvé particularly was keen on this) and modernist design could be co-opted into the European colonial project with ease.

One of the keys to colonialism is maintaining difference through reinforcing the “alienness” of the ruling group. Indeed, as Edward Said argued in Orientalism, colonialism is a system of representation as well as a series of institutions (that might include a colonial bureaucracy, as well as military and commercial institutions). Which brings us back to Prouvé’s prefab aluminum house for colonial administrators in West Africa. What better way to demonstrate the superiority of French colonial power than a high-tech industrial machine for living in? What better way to reinforce the inferiority of the “other” than to contrast the high-tech colonial administrator’s machine with their “primitive” huts? Beyond a symbol of France’s industrial superiority, Prouvé’s production process for creating the prefabricated Maison parallels the systematized order of French colonial bureaucracy. Finally, in its attempted control of the environment, devices such as the louver system, the flexible sliding panels and circular “breathing” holes that aim to direct and regulate airflow, and even the insect screens, indicate that the Maison was conceived by Prouvé as an efficient machine for regulating the tropical environment (taken to be not only foreign but hostile). The fantasy of colonial mastery pervades the project. As both a modernist design object and a colonial object, the Maison stands at the logical endpoint of the Enlightenment narrative of progress – here is tangible proof of reason’s triumph over the primitive, the Maison’s rational engineering and industrial production processes could aid the French colonial mission to conquer the primitive heart of darkness in West Africa..

The Heart of Darkness

Well, that was the idea. The reality worked out somewhat differently. The French colonial authorities decided the Maison was too expensive and the colonial administrators in Africa didn’t like the modernist style so it never went into mass production, leaving only three prototypes for contemporary Prouvé collectors to salivate over. Interestingly, for all their industrial efficiency, Prouvé’s prefabricated mass produced houses proved more expensive than expected – presumably working with local materials and builders in the colonies was ultimately a lot cheaper. However, the chapter of the Maison’s story that seems particularly interesting – that is, between arriving in Brazzaville in 1951 and its “rescue” and restoration in recent years – is decidedly sketchy but worth dwelling on briefly.

The French pulled out of the Congo in 1960, leaving it to become the independent Republic of Congo, and the new government aligned itself with the Soviet Union. Like many former African colonies, the Congo struggled both economically and politically in the following decades. What happened to the Maison for the next forty years is unknown at this point. In the early 1990s the country descended into a cycle of civil wars and it seems to have been decidedly unstable since then. Beyond the phenomenon price tag, here another interesting angle for the press emerged – the story of the Maison’s involvement in Congo’s civil war(s?) – and the all-important proof in the form of a bullet hole that remains on the staircase railing (see photo below). I caught the end of the press conference given by Mr Touchaleaume in which he pointed out the bullet hole for the photographers. A press photographer who declined to take a picture of the bullet holes murmured to me, “I come from Brooklyn, ain’t no one interested in the bulletholes out there though.”

In the late 1990s, the Maison’s story resumes – the designer industrial object was “resuced” from this unseemly situation by French antiques dealer Eric Touchaleaume and Robert Rubin, former Wall Street trader/Prouvé collector/Prouvé scholar. It was rediscovered by them, apparently occupied by squatters and overgrown by tropical forests. On the rescue itself, the various newspaper reports I have found skim over the details. Amila Gentleman in The Guardian of August 31, 2004, reported that “there were problems at the border: local authorities refused to let it pass through Customs, arguing that it should remain in Africa”. William Hamilton in the New York Times of May 16, 2007, wrote: “the Maison, occupied by squatters, was sold twice to Mr Touchaleaume, he said, by two parties who each claimed ownership. Mr Touchaleaume added that he also paid the government, with raised patrimonial claims…” Which raises an interesting question – after fifty years in the Congo, who is the Maison’s true pater?

Some time in the late 1990s, the French dealer and New York investor rescued the "orphaned" (Mr Rubin’s term) design icon out of deepest darkest Africa in a kind of boys own adventure story (there’s clearly a Hollywood film in this). But is this rescuing of the orphaned design object any different from the contemporary “rescuing” of other valuable commodities from poor African nations (specifically oil in the case of 21st century Congo, also currently being saved by French and American rescuers). In 21st century New York and Paris, both oil and designer houses are valuable commodities that the “natives” clearly can’t use or don’t value. However, the difficulties Mr Touchaleaume had getting the Maison out of the Congo suggest otherwise – presumably five or six million dollars could potentially go a long way in helping tackle Congolese poverty, childhood malnutrition, access to safe drinking water, treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDs, etc. The inequalities of the 1950s colonial relationship are replicated in the 21st century rescue, restoration and triumphant display of the Maison in the self-proclaimed contemporary cultural center, New York.

Ultimately then, the contemporary reproductions of the Maison in text and images reinforce Theodor Adorno’s idea of a “culture industry” dedicated to the self-preservation of the center, producing and reproducing cultural products that represent, in this case, colonial domination as both universal and natural. In its contemporary New York context, the Maison Tropicale, a modernist “gem”, is represented either as an industrial object or exemplar of prefab architecture, a designer object by an almost forgotten genius of French modernism. By focusing on technology, industrial processes, designer price tags and even the accompanying adventure story, the specifics of colonial relationships of power and domination, both in the 1950s and in the 21st century, are naturalized and normalized.

Post Script (June 6): The Maison sold yesterday for $4,968,000.

All photos by D.J. Huppatz

Further links:

Robert Rubin, “Preserving and Presenting Prefab: Jean Prouvé’s Tropical House”, Future Anterior, Volume 2, Number 1, Summer 2005.

Amila Gentleman, "Bullet Holes Extra: A Classic of Modern Design Has Been Saved from Squatters, Snipers and the Congolese Jungle", The Guardian, August 31, 2004.

William L. Hamilton,”From Africa to Queens Waterfront, A Modernist Gem for Sale to the Highest Bidder”, New York Times, May 16, 2007.

Christies Prouvé page.

For more on modernist architecture in Africa, see the ArchiAfrika Conference Proceedings: “Modern Architecture in East Africa around Independence” (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, July 27-29, 2005). This conference included a fascinating article on German modernist architect Ernst May’s urban and architectural projects in East Africa in the 1930s and 40s, including an image of a prefabricated house he designed for Africans (ie. not European colonizers) in Kampala, Uganda. Just don’t tell your hedge fund manager.

May 18, 2007

Bernard Tschumi and the Death of the Avant-Garde

On Friday, April 13th, 2007, Tonic, the home of experimental music on New York's Lower East Side for nine years, closed its doors for the last time. On their website, the club's owners blamed the closure on the neighborhood's recent gentrification:

"The neighborhood around us has been increasingly consumed by "luxury condominiums", boutique hotels and glass towers, all making the value of our salvaged space worth more then our business could ever realistically support. We have also been repeatedly harassed by the city's Quality of Life Task Force which resulted in the debilitating closing of the ))sub((tonic lounge in January. Coincidentally, this campaign began as our immediate neighbor, the
Blue Condominium building - a symbol of the new Lower East Side - prepared to open its doors."

The reference to Blue piqued my interest, as I had noticed the odd-shaped structure rising next to Tonic in early 2007 but didn't realise it was designed by architectural superstar Bernard Tschumi until I checked the weblink. This "visionary" architect, notes the Blue website, "captures the energy of the diverse population and eclectic buildings of the Lower East Side." (See the pictures below for the "eclectic buildings" of the LES whose energy Blue is capturing). I thought it was worth returning briefly to Tschumi, eminent architectural theorist as well as visionary architect, to see how his theories might illuminate this particular project. I have some sympathy for Tschumi's theoretical work and projects - as a corrective to modernism's narrative of rational progress and technological fetishism of the postwar era, both theories and projects were valuable in opposing what became a rather dogmatic and bureaucratic version of modernism. But both Blue and more recent theory suggest another side to Tschumi which I want to explore here, particularly as it relates to the Tonic situation.

But first Blue itself: an odd-shaped cantilevered 16 story luxury apartment building comprising 32 units (the majority one bedroom), clad in various shades of blue glass panels. Like a pixelated Autocad form, its aesthetics reflect the digital age, and in that sense, reassert the values of progress - not industrial progress à la Prouvé, but the values of the digital world in which its future inhabitants will presumably spend much of their time (and, perhaps more importantly, have made much of their money). The blue crystalline structure is a spectacle that does not relate to its context - in fact, it self-consciously differentiates itself from its Lower East Side context as a cultural object of distinction. As Charles Jencks would have it, it is an "iconic building". The unique form and brilliant color in an otherwise drab corner of the LES reflect the values of a consumer culture that thrives on novel images of technological progress. Tschumi's geometric envelope, high-speed fiber-optically connected and guarded by a 24 hour doorman, is destined to become a hermetically sealed escape pod for the young, culturally-savvy digital elite.

This is an image of Seward Park Extension (1973) on Essex Street, just across Delancey Street from Blue (note: these are not "condominiums" but "apartments", the difference is not only economic but cultural as well).

So how did Tschumi get from the radical (re)vision of a Parisian public park, Parc de Villette, to Blue? And how am I going to relate this back to Tonic? An early work by Tschumi, Architectural Advertisement, 1977, (above), provides us with a point of departure: "Architecture is defined by the actions it witnesses as much as by the enclosure of its walls." In this case, Tschumi's Blue has, in its very coming-into-being, witnessed the death of one of New York's premier experimental music venues. Note, however, that architecture is defined by Tschumi as a witness, rather than a protagonist in this particular homicide. But witness is far too passive - surely architecture does something? I'll leave homicide alone for the Tonic/Blue case and instead be arguing for negligent manslaughter - I'll leave it up to you, the jury, to ultimately decide. The image, incidently, features Yves Klein, an artist who knew a thing or two about blue.

But the witness claim was a long time ago, so in fairness I will begin this case with a more recent Tschumi publication, Event-Cities 3: Concept vs Context vs Content (Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press, 2004) for a further explication of his theories. In the book's opening theoretical text, Tschumi argues: "The history of architecture abounds in debates between the partisans of tabula rasa (concept) and those of genius loci (context), or between generic concepts and specific contexts." (p. 011) There are, he continues, three ways in which context and concept could relate: Indifference, Reciprocity and Conflict. The last of these seems particularly pertinent to the Blue/Tonic situation: "Conflict, whereby the architectural concept is strategically made to clash with its context, in a battle of opposites in which both protagonists may need to negotiate their own survival." (p.011) This survival, in the case of the New York real estate context is most certainly a capitalist "survival of the fittest" in which the starchitect's designer condominiums (concept = cultural sophistication/digital living) for young urban professionals wins out over small businesses, even, ironically, culturally "visionary" ones such as Tonic. Ultimately, Tschumi's Blue is another illustration of that long-held theory of New York architecture: "form follows finance".

Which brings me back to the deceased. Marc Ribot, in a passionate article titled, "
The Care and Feeding of a Musical Margin" ("All About Jazz", June 2007), relates the history of New York's downtown music venues and brings up the (very un-New York) idea of subsidizing culture. European experimental music has traditionally thrived, he argues, due to various levels of government funding (from city to federal). Meanwhile New York musicians, he argues, have long survived by working both sides of the Atlantic, playing the subsidized summer festival circuit and clubs in Europe as well as the small clubs in New York (at the mercy of market forces). He writes: "Experimental jazz/new music people once occupied a margin delimited and fed by both market and European state funding. As both of these sources contract, we're facing the consequences of a lack of US public funding. As the expressed will of the American political majority, this radical market liberalism seems hard to oppose. Nationally, “we've” made our choice, “we” will live with the results: America will finally get the culture it's paid for."

In a city where design means "value-added", living in a starchitect-designed condominium becomes a means of accruing "cultural capital". And pay we must. Those of us with a spare million dollars can acquire a designer condominium (designed, ironically, by a European architect = instant cultural credit) in a rapidly disappearing hub of avant-garde culture. Meanwhile, the musicians who used to play next door, have long since scattered to Brooklyn or might be piecing together gigs here and there - as long as it's somewhere else, leaving our consumers of design content now there's no noise to interfere with their connectivity.

More on the closure of Tonic and efforts to keep avant-garde music alive in Manhattan

You may not be too late to snap up a 1 bedroom condo at Blue
here for just under $1 million.

A partial list of other "starchitect" or brand-name designer luxury condos in downtown Manhattan, either recently completed or currently under construction:

Jean Nouvel,
40 Mercer Street
Herzog and de Meuron,
40 Bond Street (in association with Mr Lifestyle himself, Ian Schreger)
Enrique Norton,
1 York Street
Philippe Starck,
Downtown by Starck, Wall Street
Philip Johnson (and Annabelle Selldorf),
The Urban Glass House (in a neighborhood with "a distinctly bohemian feel")
Santiago Calatrava,
80 South Street (this project is yet to commence, and with only 10 condos starting from $29 million, you wonder whether it's really viable)


For me, Gary Sullivan's poetic comic book, Elsewhere # 2 (2006), sparked not only a renewed interest in combinations of text and image but also possibilities for reading New York. The 24 page comic book features poetry by Nada Gordon and black and white cartoons by Sullivan. In it, the authors riff off their experience traversing Brooklyn's Coney Island Avenue, a road which runs from the suburbs of predominantly white middle-class Brooklyn on the "right side" of Prospect Park, right through the heart of immigrant Brooklyn, to end in the predominantly Russian Brighton Beach neighborhood. While there is no progressive narrative to follow in Gordon and Sullivan's kaleidescope of images and words, you certainly get a sense of a journey through immigrant worlds - glimpses through shop windows and chainlink fences, the rhythms of conversations half-overheard in languages half-understood.

Gordon's poem is an homage of sorts to Frank O'Hara's 1953 poem "Second Avenue", perhaps the most surreal of his poems and certainly a long way from the anthologized O'Hara of first-person narratives. In "Second Avenue", O'Hara riffs off his experience of sights and sounds in 1950s Manhattan: "actually everything in it either happened to me or I felt happening (saw, imagined) on Second Avenue,” wrote O'Hara about the poem. The result is a pastiche of narrative, documentation, autobiography, literary references and mythology, provoking a constant slippage between street imagery and the surface of language. O'Hara's opening lines from "Second Avenue":

"Quips and players, seeming to vend astringency off-hours,
celebrate diced excesses and sardonics, mixing pleasures,
as if proximity were starting at the margin of a plea..."

are echoed in Gordon's opening lines:

"Beans and pumpkin, seeming to lend ingenuity
to the otherwise concrete garden, coil up lavishly
out of immigrant yearning mixing pleasure & labor as if
vegetables were hovering at the margin of a curry."

Sullivan's accompanying cartoon style is similarly eclectic, ranging from documentary snapshots cropped from the street to quirky characters that could have been culled from the newspaper's funny pages - that is, from serious comic book "art" to self-consciously amateur doodles to surreal collages combining both. Each frame is unique with little narrative flow, producing an effect in images that complements Gordon's fragmentary poetry both in its techniques and its subject matter. As with O'Hara's "Second Avenue", there is a slippage between documentation and imagination, but here O'Hara's Abstract Expressionist surface gives way to Sullivan and Gordon's poly-vocal collage.
In Elsewhere #2, Sullivan and Gordon distill fragments of the sights and sounds of a cosmopolitan city - snatches of Spanish, Arabic, Hebrew, Russian, Urdu and Bengali appear in Sullivan's cropped signs and advertisements, as well as in Gordon's text - linguistic details that highlight the heterogeneity of 21st century Brooklyn. Taking a step beyond O'Hara, Sullivan and Gordon retreat from autobiography almost completely and let the streets speak in their various languages, the roving consciousness of cartoonist and poet shaping the rush of New York's immigrant topography. They evoke an "elsewhere" New York, the hub of a global network characterised less by financial flows, than by flows of languages and cultures.

Elsewhere #2 seems to be a continuation of an ongoing project by Sullivan, begun in Elsewhere #1 (2005). Subtitled "Japanese Notebook", this comic book was composed during a trip to Japan. In it, Sullivan appropriates and transforms images from the streets of Japan and combines them with fragments of Japanese-English, the language typically found in advertising and packaging, or on signs and t-shirts. This mutant version of English, reowned for its butchered syntax and sentimental phrases, exposes the awkwardness of a non-native speaker, but also produces unexpectedly evocative and humorous results (that could even be described as "poetic"). Sullivan uses saccharine lines such as "There's always someone doing one's best" juxtaposed with a cartoon of a cute talking cellphone character, or just plain "bad" English lines such as, "I can give a rainbow the smailing or come across as one's mind." As well as tracing along the edges of language where it frays into nonsense, Sullivan's poetry here highlights the hybrid nature of English, a language in constant flux, contested (literally, in this case) from "elsewhere". Both the imagery and the text are again appropriated from vernacular culture - Sullivan quotes the language of the streets rather than "high" Japanese art and literature.

Sullivan and Gordon are well-known for their co-founding of the 21st century literary phenomenon known as "Flarf". While there has been much commentary on Flarf already (see links listed below), what seems to me to be most interesting about Flarf is not its ironic silliness, the search-engine methodologies or fetishization of technology that critics have thus far focused on, but the possibilities of new mutant languages and hybrid forms that Sullivan and Gordon suggest in Elsewhere. The collaborative nature of much Flarf work and its virtual community dedicated to creating and proliferating such dissident languages in a highly conservative culture are also heartening.

Indeed, Flarf and its exponents are not all fun and games. The cover of Elsewhere #2 is particularly politically provocative in an American context (see above), and though it may immediately make one think of wars currently being waged abroad, the setting is not the streets of Kabul or Baghdad but of Brooklyn. To make the local-global connections clearer, Gordon writes later in the comic book: "Who is "they"? The Westerners, of course, the tumbling vipers aware of history as rods stippling the dip of an imperialistic road map." If these are reminders of contemporary American military operations overseas (elsewhere), the book's focus is actually more specifically local, providing a glimpse at the "elsewhere" within.

The "melting pot" is a common cliché used to describe New York City. The term, popularized during the first great wave of the city's immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, held the promise that the hordes of Irish, German, Italian and Eastern European immigrants could be stirred up in the pot and come out as Americans. The melting pot is also an image that serves to conceal New York's ingrained ethnic and racial tensions. The second wave of immigration in the late 20th and early 21st century, predominantly from the Middle East, the Caribbean and Asia has once again brought the melting pot cliché to the fore. The paranoia evoked by 9/11 seems to have exacerbated the tension between an image of unified America ("United We Stand" says the bumper sticker) and the New York reality - less a melting pot than a cultural mosaic of disparate immigrant communities with no common culture, disconnected from each other and from mainstream (that is, predominantly white middle class) America. In contemporary New York, as in America generally, English is struggling to remain the common language and "American" the common culture.

Sullivan and Gordon bring to light these tensions with their provacative "elsewhere" at the heart of New York. Their poly-vocal English is constantly disrupted from without: "suspended by telephone wires from moons in alternate cultural systems: electrical analysis of pistachios, desi kulfi, tortillas at the good luck deli." And this kind of acknowledgement of American cultural heterogeniety seems extactly what is needed in an remarkably insular mainstream culture. In Elsewhere, the without is in fact, within, the elsewhere is here - all we need do is begin to listen to voices like that of Iraqi pop star Kazim Al Saher, "his chorus forever tracing the marvelous alarms of the sonic, the doum and the tek and the doum doum tek a tek doum tek a tek."

Further links:
Rick Synder, "The New Pandemonium: A Brief Overview of Flarf", Jacket #31 (October 2006)
Flarf feature in Jacket #30 (July 2006)
Gary Sullivan Elsewhere (blog)
Nada Gordon ~~ululations~~ (blog)
My own appropriations of mutant Asian Englishes, Book of Poem!, reviewed by Timothy Wright in Cordite (2005)